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More Than a Statistic

By Janine Brignola

October 29, 2013

Janine Brignola

Janine Brignola

I am a young, heterosexual, Caucasian woman living with HIV. I am not in the major demographic of people living affected with HIV, or categorized as a "high-risk" group, but does that mean my story is less important?

You don't need me to tell you that there is stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. Because of that stigma, we who live with HIV are often afraid. Rather than uniting to show the world that HIV has a face, we hide and become ashamed for having this "dirty disease." We often hear about the populated areas that are affected with HIV, but we do not hear about the stories of those who are living with HIV in the lesser-affected areas, living in fear of becoming ostracized by our peers, families, friends and by the public in general.

When you go to large urban areas, there are signs, billboards and various other platforms that constantly warn about the dangers of HIV. They warn EVERYONE; whether gay, lesbian, straight, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Middle-Eastern, purple, pink or blue, because EVERYONE may be, and IS affected by this epidemic. Yet when attending seminars or conferences, we only hear about how we need to put funding where the "gays and blacks" are. Why have we not realized that we should treat this as a disease that affects the entire human population?

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A common reaction when I disclose my status to people is "but you're pretty and smart"; or "no way, seriously?" Both comments only reassure me that I need to continue speaking out and informing others because of the ignorance surrounding this disease. I am a young, Caucasian, heterosexual woman living with HIV. To the outside world I am too "normal" looking to be affected, let alone infected with HIV. I so often feel that because I do not fit into the larger demographic of who is "at risk" or who is affected by HIV, people feel that what I have to say is not as pertinent. I feel people do not want to hear about HIV, and that the individuals who work in HIV prevention and education do not feel that my story is as influential. Why? Because I am a straight white woman. Do I need to be someone or something else for the public to feel that what I have to say is important?

We all have a voice, and we all have some issue that is close to our hearts. No matter what it is, no matter who we are, or what demographic we fall into; we are given a voice. Those of us in America especially have a freedom that many do not have -- we owe it to ourselves and to the ones we love to stand up and talk, yell, shout, even scream if that is what it takes. Our voices need to be heard. I talk about HIV because I have it and it affects me and those close to me. Don't wait to talk about your issue.

This article originally appeared on Janine's blog for MTV's "Staying Alive" campaign.

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